Catfish reel in state championship

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Although their season is over, the memories made this winter will surely last a lifetime.
Over the course of two weeks, the Westminster Swim and Dive team took home 1st place in both
the annual Atlanta metro meet and the State Championship in both the boy’s and girl’s divisions.
The Catfish did not only win their 49th combined state championship, but did so in extremely
convincing fashion. The boys dominated runner-up Calhoun by more than 350 points, and the
girls finished almost 200 points ahead of Greater Atlanta Christian School.
Although the Catfish made their state victory look easy, it certainly was not. Weeks
before the state meet, the Catfish began preparation, starting a very precise routine and type of practice that would improve their swimming and keep them in peak condition. Sophomore
Holley Jackson, who swam the 100-meter backstroke event for the Catfish in the State
Championship, mentioned that the team “tapered” in the final weeks before state. She describes
the tapering process as “having shorter practices that consisted of a little less cardio and much fewer meters than a typical practice during the regular season. The point of this was so that we maintained the shape we were in over the regular season but didn’t tire our muscles out.”
Head coach Sharon Loughran, who has just finished up her second season coaching the
Catfish, mentions that the point of the tapering process is “to make sure you swim the very
fastest you can in the time where it counts.” The tapering strategy obviously proved successful as the Catfish’ competition was left eating only their bubbles.
Although the majority of preparation occurs in the water, perhaps the most important
aspect of training takes place outside the pool. Coach Loughran preached that “the most
important thing is always to take care of yourself. Making sure you get a sufficient amount of
sleep, eating healthy, staying hydrated, avoiding sickness, and dodging stress by planning out
your schedule beforehand. All these things add up big time.”
It is safe to say that the Catfish prepared terrifically for the intense competition that
comes with the State Championship meet, as the other teams could not keep up. In fact, nobody
in school history could possibly catch up with the relay team of juniors Connor Hinkes and Peter
Bernot and seniors Dylan Vroon and Grayson Harralson. The foursome set a new school record
of 3 minutes and 8.52 seconds in the 4×100 free relay event. The time did not only shatter the
previous record, but it also qualifies this elite group of Catfish for All-American consideration.
Although it is the time that matters, the mindset of a swimmer in the moments before and
during the race is what dictates how the race will pan out. Coach Loughran advises her Catfish to “be in the moment” and “clear their head” when climbing the starting block, but the swimmers
have developed their own rituals to survive the pregame rituals.
“When I am about to swim a race, especially one with such a high level of importance
like state, I try my hardest to think less the beginning and middle of the race and focus more
about my finish,” said Jackson. “I also try to avoid thinking of the details because I know it all comes down to muscle memory.” Freshman Gigi Johnson shared a similar strategy.
“When I’m diving into the water, I think about all of the hours and effort I have put into
the pool,” said Johnson. This helps reassure myself that I CAN swim this race and that I have the endurance to swim it as fast as I can.”
Although these techniques have proved very successful, sophomore Ashwin Pillai prefers a much emptier ritual. Pillai responded with a resounding “nothing” when asked about what goes through his mind before and during a big race.
The grind of preparing for such a meet can wear a swimmer and coach out, but the
rewards of sweet victory make it all worth it. For Coach Loughran, who has won a State
Championship as a swimmer, the win brought a very high level of pride and happiness for her
swimmers.
“I was just so proud of this team,” said Loughran. “Their leadership and their grind
throughout the season all paid off in the end.” In fact, Coach Loughran knew that this team was
destined for greatness before they pulled off this outstanding run.
“I knew they had it in them. They all had their own ethos, but came together as one great
team.” Freshman Gigi Johnson had a similar outlook on the win as Coach Loughran, talking
about how important it was for her and her teammates to see all their hard work come to
something.
“Winning state showed me that our teamwork, support, and hard work all season, paid off
in the end,” said Johnson. For Holley Jackson, the win proved her wrong. She admits to doubting
her skills in the water at the start of the season, but when her squad brought home the
championship, she was overjoyed and frankly, surprised.
“I am just so glad I got to be a part of the state team this year and I am so happy I got to
swim for my team because at the beginning of the season I thought I had no chances of making
the cut,” said Jackson. “It was just an unbelievable experience and I wouldn’t trade it for
anything.”
Although it will be a huge challenge, Coach Loughran believes that she can replicate
these results year after year and bring a championship culture to Westminster swimming and
diving. She notes that this success comes down to three main things: possessing terrific
leadership, working the process, and trusting one another. Through this, they were brought and
hopefully will bring in even more success. Phenomenal season, Catfish.

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